Top of the Plate


Several trends have emerged on Spokane's food scene this year -- really good sushi, spearheaded by places like RAW, Okane and Ding How; "small plates," as executed at Bluefish, Vin Rouge and others; artisan food retailers selling wine, chocolate, fine desserts -- and cheese (see next section). But for me the most notable trend -- beyond the rise in the number of choices for downtown diners -- has been the expansion of several area fine dining establishments into the world of breakfast and brunch.

One reason I've noticed this trend will be obvious when you see my Top Five Food Experiences of the year, listed below: Four of the five involve breakfast. I guess I took seriously the old saw that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But apparently lots of other folks took those words to heart, too. Restaurateurs say they're simply responding to customer demand; customers show up where good food is presented and served well. Whatever the cause, it looks like creative breakfasts are here to stay.

Top Five Food

Experiences of 2006:

Discovering the peanut butter and jelly bars at Cielo Bakery: Imagine a soft, not-so-sweet, peanut butter square laced with fresh strawberry preserves and sprinkled with roasted salted peanuts. Incredible. Add a cup of coffee, and all dreams are possible under the stars in the flag-blue ceiling.

Digging into a Lou Lou crepe at Bittersweet Bistro: A swirl of thin crepe batter, lightly and perfectly browned and filled with pears, Brie cheese and watercress leaves. On a snowy winter day, with the windows steamed and delectable aromas wafting about, it's enough to make you think of spring.

Sitting by the open garage-style doors at Caf & eacute; Marron, enjoying a warm prosciutto sandwich on a mild morning as a late-spring thunderstorm blew over Browne's Addition: Thin prosciutto with melted Fontina and sliced avocado, served on warm freshly baked Ciabatta from Bouzies, holds up, no matter the changes in weather or fortune.

Watching the October sun rise behind St. John's Cathedral while diving into a croissant breakfast at Just Jerry's: Jerry Schrader and Robin Riemcke won kudos for their breakfasts at Cannon Street Grill, so we're just happy to have them back at the stove.

Reminding myself of the joys of a fully loaded Costco hot dog: OK, food snobs, quitcherbellyachin'. A Costco hot dog (or German sausage) is hot, juicy, lightly spiced -- Dijon mustard, sweet pickle relish, chopped onions and sauerkraut are my toppings of choice. And it's still $1.50, same as when I moved to Spokane nearly 16 years ago.


Redefining Cheese


In recent years, the Inland Northwest has become home to a number of well-known artisan cheese makers. Owners Pierre and Joan Monteillet of Monteillet Fromagerie in Dayton, Wash., produce a variety of rich, soft-cultured goat- and sheep's-milk cheeses similar to Camembert or Brie. Sally Jackson, considered the grande dame of Northwest cheese making, and her husband Roger have been making distinctive cheeses from goat, sheep and cow's milk in Oroville, Wash., for several decades. Hoo Doo Valley Creamery in Priest River, Idaho, produces hard-pressed cow's-milk cheddar and jack cheese. And Rick and Lora Lea Misterly make raw-milk goat cheese (some flavored with lavender, fennel, black pepper and garlic) at Quillisascut Farm in Rice, Wash.

Making artisan cheese is a labor-intensive mix of art and science, much like other artisan food and beverage trends -- coffee, wine, microbrews, bread and chocolate. Europeans have long been considered the world's top cheese makers, but in a recent revolutionary turn of events, Americans are gaining accolades at home and abroad for their artisan cheeses.

With cheese consumption in the U.S. more than doubling in the last 25 years, a new style of American cheese has emerged. Yes, America gave birth to aerosol cheese in a can and single-wrapped, sliced, processed cheese, but in the last 15 years an older style of cheese making has been revitalized in this country: America is now home to a host of handcrafted cheeses widely regarded as some of the best in the world.

Top Five Food

Experiences of 2006:

Shopping for fine American cheeses at Saunder's Cheese Market: Customers can sample from more than 60 varieties of domestic and imported artisan cheeses before purchasing and savor cheese plates at the downtown shop's marble bar or tables.

Indulging my chocolate desires at the Chocolate Apothecary: From creamy chocolate drinks and handcrafted truffles to bath scrubs and books, all things chocolate are available in this cozy shop in downtown's Flour Mill.

Splurging on high-quality specialty desserts at Stefanie's Isn't It Sweet: Stefanie uses all natural ingredients to make her delectables, including Madagascar vanilla cheesecake bars and dark-chocolate chunk, sweet-mint sandwich cookies.

Eating Tuscan tapenade turkey and cannellini bean salad guilt free at Wild Sage Bistro: Executive Chef Alexa Wilson's special dish blends tradition with innovation. It is not only tasty, it's low-fat, gluten-free and healthy.

Savoring the Donatella (Italian chocolate with hazelnut) and cherry cheesecake gelato at Gelato Joe's: These creamy, rich bites of heaven are among the 30 flavors of fresh gelato offered at this north-side shop.


Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Feb. 13
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